The Hottest State (2006) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, and language
Running time: 117 min.

Cast: Mark Webber, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ethan Hawke, Laura Linney, Michelle Williams, Sonia Braga, Jesse Harris
Director: Ethan Hawke
Screenplay: Ethan Hawke (based on his novel)

Review published July 30, 2007

Ethan Hawke (Lord of War, Assault on Precinct 13) adapts and directs this big screen version of the book he published back in 1997 of the same name, also giving himself a role as the father who would remain largely absent from his boy's life after the dissolution of the relationship.  In a nutshell, it's a look into the love affair gone bad between a rudderless actor and a self-absorbed singer, and the difficulties they have adjusting to the relationship's seemingly needless demise.  The title refers to the main character's home state of Texas, which is also Hawke's home state, but it also serves a dual meaning as the state of Hell that one undergoes when in deeply love with someone that doesn't love you back. 

Mark Webber (People I Know, Drive Me Crazy) stars as the struggling displaced-Texan-turned-New-York-actor, William Harding, who falls head over heels for a Mexican-American singer named Sarah (Moreno, Paris je'taime) , and the two profess their love for one another.  However, after a blissful week together in Mexico City -- a week where they almost get married -- Sarah comes back to her senses and pushes William away, thinking that such a relationship isn't what she needs, having been burned before by dropping everything for a man and giving up on her goals.  William is shattered, and finds it impossible to just let go.  He continues to pursue Sarah, despite her repeated admonitions. 

Hawke's writing is full of truths about relationships and the messy ways they fall apart when the balance just isn't right, through no fault of anyone in particular.  They say that sometimes love and relationships are all a matter of the right timing, and though the two lovebirds here find themselves compatible, only one appears to be ready to take things to the deep level that they quickly approach, while the other slams on the brakes out of fear. 

This is Hawke's second feature film as a director, and given the fact that he puts much of himself into the piece, and knows the source material about as well as anyone ever could, his delivery is right on the money for the reflective and painful drama that it is.  He tosses in some stylish editing and camera flourishes, but for the most part, the engine runs on the characterizations, which are deep for the protagonist at the heart of the film, but rather lean in terms of the motivations of the others. 

Although Hawke has marketed the book and film as a work of fiction that correlates to his own experiences, there is too much that correlates to his own life to think that it isn't at largely autobiographical to a large extent.  Aaron Webber delivers a full-blown Hawke impression in terms of his mannerisms and way of speaking, so much so that it's sometimes hard not to think of the young man as Hawke himself, albeit a younger version. 

We don't really know what the flashbacks to WIlliam's childhood are about until the end, where we retroactively fill in the blanks that lead to his obsessive refusal to feel abandonment one more time.  It's a poignant point among many, and while the film is too quirky to satisfy every taste, for those who enjoy romances that aren't always pat and impersonal, The Hottest State is, if nothing else, trying to tell a small-scale tale of one man's eye-opening realization on who he is.  He doesn't need a woman to make his life complete, or his father.  In order to move forward, he must ultimately find himself, which is, after all, what his mother (Linney, Jindabyne) has done, and also all that Sarah really wants to do on her own.    

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo